I hope that I am not speaking out of school here, but I have just learned that one of our major sponsors,  the photographer and collector William Talbott Hillman has just added another really significant image to his collection, It is a beautiful and evocative photograph in  itself and I suspect is well known to most of our readers.

The Fruitsellers


Twenty years ago I wrote about this photograph, feeling that it was most likely a collaboration between Henry Talbot and his close friend the Rev Calvert R Jones.  May I paraphrase that venerable passage? “In The Pencil of Nature, Talbot observed about pictures from life that “at present we cannot well succeed in this branch of the art without some previous concert and arrangement.  If we proceed to the City, and attempt to take a picture of the moving multitude, we fail, for in a small fraction of a second they change their positions so much, as to destroy the distinctness of the representation.  But when a group of persons has been artistically arranged, and trained by a little practice to maintain an absolute immobility for a few seconds of time, very delightful pictures are easily obtained.” The earliest reference to this image traced so far was on 13 December 1845, when Henneman billed Talbot for 24 copies of “Selling fruit in the Cloister.”  These were in a group of prints labelled as being for The Pencil of Nature, mostly including several views that were published, and some that had not yet been issued by the time the publication ceased. The title above is from the printed slips Nicolaas Henneman applied to mounted prints that his firm sold.  Lady Elisabeth Feilding called it a “Groupe in the Cloisters with Fruit.” But perhaps the most commonly known title is simply ‘The Fruit Sellers.’In lighting and style, this image bears such a strong resemblance to “The Ancient Vestry”  that one feels the same vision must be involved.  The dark-uniformed young man at the left appears in many of Calvert Jones’ photographs taken in Wales.  The gardener’s ample hat is not seen in other photographs of Lacock Abbey people.  However, the reclining figure and his hat bear a strong resemblance to David Roderick, Jones’ gardener in Wales   It seems most likely that Talbot and Jones collaborated in taking this constructed record of an event in life at Lacock Abbey.”


This particular print – an exceptionally fine one – formerly belonged to Howard Stein, a man with a very acute eye.  Yet what interests me most about this lovely print is the note on the reverse.


In this unique print, probably hastily inscribed to a friend, the unmistakable handwriting of Talbot’s granddaughter, Miss Matilda Talbot tells us more of the history of the title.  She called it a Group of persons in Cloisters of Lacock Abbey, possibly Gardener & other members of household staff, called by my Grandfather `The Fruit Sellers’.” And thus we have the source of the two best known titles.

Larry J Schaaf


• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at larry.schaaf@bodleian.ox.ac.uk  • WHFT and/or Calvert R Jones, The Fruitsellers, salt print from a calotype negative, possibly 9 September 1845, William Talbott Hillman Collection, Schaaf 1917. •  My text is paraphrased from that in Sun Pictures Catalogue nine: William Henry Fox Talbot: Friends & Relations, Hans P Kraus Jr, Inc, 1998.